EPU Gun of the Week

French Mle. 1892 Ordnance Revolver

Originally posted January 10, 2016

I don't have enough on this one to warrant giving it its own Gun of the Week entry, but since the PHP one was a bit light I thought I'd double them up.

1892 French Ordnance Revolver, right side

This is a French Modèle 1892 revolver d'ordonnance, which was still standard issue for officers of the French army in World War I. What's interesting about the Model 1892 from a mechanical standpoint is that it's not terribly interesting. It's a solid-frame single/double-action revolver with a six-shot cylinder (chambered for a slightly weedy 8mm centerfire cartridge) that swings out on a crane.

Nothing really outstanding there—but in 1892, that was all very modern stuff. Not revolutionary, no, but those features were all at the leading edge of the wave at the time. This was at a time when the sidearm of the German army, stereotyped today as the world's most modern, was still a whopping great single-action-only slab of pre-outdated 1870s goodness. However, at that point in world history, France was right out there in the forefront of firearms technology generally—smokeless powder was invented there at around the same time—so in context it's not that surprising. Good job, France!

A slightly odd feature is that the cylinder swings out to the right, so that you have to hold the gun in your left hand to reload it, which is an odd design choice for a military sidearm. (One theory is that it was for the convenience of cavalry officers, who were trained to shoot left-handed because the right hand is for the saber.) Also, it has both a swing-out cylinder and a thing that looks like a loading gate, but the actual function of which is to unlock the cylinder for deployment. That's a bit weird, but hey.

The nice folks at C&Rsenal have done an extensive writeup and a video on the Model 1892, so I won't go on about the type generally; I'd just be reiterating stuff I mostly learned from them anyway. Instead, I'm going to note a few things about the particular one I have which I think are interesting.

1892 French Ordnance Revolver, left side

First and foremost, as you can no doubt tell from the photos above, it is beat, son. However, it's beat in an interesting and informative way. The heavy but evenly distributed pitting, the complete loss of original finish, the obvious replacement grips (more on this in a moment), and the fact that the mechanism still mostly works despite all that lead me to suspect that this revolver spent a good deal of time buried somewhere. The original grips were wooden and so probably rotted away, but wherever it was wasn't wet enough to cause the whole gun to rust into a single vaguely-gun-shaped mass (which can happen); instead, while the finish was destroyed and the surface badly eaten into, the inner workings were protected by the outer casing and so still mostly function.

On this model, that large screw at the top of the grip on the right side of the frame (see top photo) can be undone to release the left-hand side plate, at which point the whole side of the revolver swings open on a hinge below and a little behind the front of the cylinder (you can just barely make out the seam in the left-side photo).

1892 French Ordnance Revolver with side plate partly open

The hinge is jammed or damaged on this one, so what you see above is as far as the side plate can be opened (I may go after it later with some AeroKroil and see if I can free it up), but that's far enough to get a glimpse inside:

closeup on partly open side plate of 1892 French Ordnance Revolver

With the flash on, you can see some surface rust and whatnot in there, but still—there are recognizable parts inside, which is more than one can say for a lot of mechanical devices in this condition. It might even be the rest of the way reparable, apart from the finish, which is obviously a total loss. I might make an attempt myself at some point, if I can find some more documentation about what it's supposed to be like in there.

You'll note in the photos that though the finish is destroyed, some of the original markings can still be made out. The engraving on the right side of the frame is the name of the arsenal where it was made, M[anufactu]re. d'Armes [de] St-Etienne. Saint-Etienne revolvers were marked on the right side of the barrel with their year of manufacture, but I can't make out what it might say on mind, the barrel being in particularly rough shape; however, by happenstance, the serial number is perfectly legible, the bit of the frame where it's stamped being almost completely free of pitting. (I've obscured it in the picture, but you can see where it is on the right side below the cylinder.)

Where this gun came from or how it came to be in this shape, I can only speculate about. As I said, I suspect it spent a good while buried. My guess is that someone turned it up with a metal detector, spent a while cleaning the dirt and surface rust off it, and got it mostly functional again, then either decided it wasn't worth bothering to continue restoring or moved on to some other project.

At some point, though, either its discoverer or someone else through whose hands it passed decided to do something about the lost grips, and the result is the most interesting bit to me—the thing that made me decide to buy the gun even though it's beat as hell, only semi-works, and takes ammunition nobody makes any more anyway. The ones that are on it now are made from what appears to be Plexiglas, which someone painstakingly shaped and polished into a set of replacement grips that are both decorative and surprisingly comfortable. They would probably be too slippery to be acceptable in field conditions, since they're so smooth, but that's not really relevant to the situation in which this particular specimen finds itself, and they're an indication that, at some point, somebody cared enough to go to a fair bit of trouble to make something nice for this battered old warhorse. I think that's great.

All old guns, particularly but not exclusively ex-military ones, come with their mysteries—things about them you'll always wonder and never know. Did my 1944 Izhevsk Nagant see action in the waning days of the Great Patriotic War? How is it that my Lee-Enfield never lost its stacking hook? The mysteries surrounding this old St-Etienne revolver are especially tantalizing to consider, since there are at least two different sets of them (one to do with its original military career, and another around the evident partial restoration it underwent much later). Which is why I value it, despite the fact that to a casual inspection, it's just a pound or so of scrap metal.